Friday, May 6, 2011

A rant about literary fiction...

I’ve got issues with Literary Fiction. Admittedly, I have read very little of what is marketed as Literary Fiction (and I appreciate that authors may not necessarily class their books as such but seeing stacks of books with suitably arty covers all over the walls at Borders implies it’s a powerful marketing term.) My issue with Lit Fiction is as a marketing concept; the books themselves may be perfectly good reads.

My problem with Lit Fiction is that it appears to be consciously NOT Genre fiction (eg Sci-Fi, Western, Crime etc) but, it’s not hard to see certain repeated conventions dominating such books – it’s a genre whether it likes it or not. My rough checklist of Lit Fiction conventions:

  • Arty-farty cover with only an abstract connection to the story.
  • Not set in the English speaking world (Chocolat, The Shadow of the Wind).
  • Detail about some kind of artisanship – (Chocolat, The Vinter’s Luck)
  • Connection to real historical events which are known, but not too well known, or some suitably novel aspect is addressed (The Shadow of the Wind and Franco’s Spain, Birdsong and miners digging underneath the trenches/ no-man’s land)
  • Pretensions to some deep and meaningful universal human truth but without any great insight actually turning up (all of them…)

There is, to my mind, a desire for Lit Fiction to be worthy. You, the reader, will learn something as opposed to just being entertained. There is an implication that there is something wrong with simply sitting down and enjoying a thumping good read. This even infects stuff like Harry Potter – which is why (in the UK at least) the books were each printed with an adult and children’s edition – different covers, the words remained exactly the same.

Is there something wrong with genre media (meaning books, films, TV and so on)?
Is this a reaction to some culture becoming so completely devoid of relevance (ie, so-called reality TV) that as consumers we don’t want to be associated with that trash so want to think we’re being immersed in more substantial fare? Perhaps, someone I work with said that if they were ever going to read “War and Peace”, they’d read it in book form, not on their e-reader – they wanted people to see they were reading it.

OR, has genre culture become so “franchised” (eg Star Wars, Trek etc) that we see it as just another machine produced product?

And in response – Literary Fiction in exactly 100words

‘Joseph kneaded the dough in the traditional way, used in this part of France for centuries. He could have done it the modern way, but since Jerome’s death, he wanted to do the work, to put something of himself back into it, something to remember and honour his brother.
The door creaked open. It was Mariette, the girl his brother had come to France for.
“The bread, it is how Jerome did it,” she said with a smile. It was her first smile since Jerome had died in Bleriot’s plane. Her hand met Joseph’s and they kneaded the dough together.’

Goddamn, I am so sarcastic...

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